Star Matter to Dark Matter and Back

I began to minimize my faith in religion back in 2012. It was a very confusing and draining time in my life, brought on by my great aunt’s losing battle with pancreatic cancer a year earlier.

After her death, I was not the same person and I felt the cavity of her absence to my core. In attempts to be happy again, I talked to Mike almost every day, despite living in different cities. I watched dozens of DVDs from my university’s library, escaping into Singin’ in the Rain, Finding Neverland, and Ever After, to name a few. I bottled up my grief – wrote stories and essays about loss for class assignments, and pulled myself up from piles of blankets and sweatshirts on my dorm room bed. I took a trip to Florida and met Mike’s aunt and uncle for the first time and they took us to Disney World. It all helped a little, bit by bit, but I still felt lost. I prayed to God and to my aunt each night, longing to be heard. I cried till my nose grew raw with the salt of grief each time there was no response, and after a year – I stopped praying all together.

I slowly came to terms with an understanding that she was gone permanently and I that couldn’t talk with her anymore, only to her memory. I rationalized the unlikelihood that there was really a heaven, to the point where such a concept did not make sense to me anymore. I began to view Jesus as a good, self-sacrificing, historical figure who lived by contagious ethical values and began to realize that his mother, Mary, may have just been a young girl, newly married, and uneducated in matters of sexuality.

I began to stumble across my aunt in dreams, but she was different – not the person I had known. Something was always off about her. I’d be dreaming that I was walking around the corner in our family shore house and happen upon her standing there, wordless, in the middle of the kitchen, lit only by the bulb inside the refrigerator, her back to me. She never spoke to me in these early dreams. She was child-like, but looked even older than she did just before she died. She seemed happy in the dreams, but always with an air of infantile innocence about her, as though she were a newborn old person.

To not be able to speak with her was painful, and to fear her was worse, because at the time, all I needed to know was that she was still there if I needed her, that I could somehow break through the curtain between the realm of the dead and the living. I just didn’t know how yet.

I gained more of an interest in the science of the how the universe works and an appreciation for quantum theory a few years later, recognizing in them new ways to describe what I once called faith. I marveled in the idea that most of the elements in human bodies were formed in stars and gained an appreciation for the existence of humanity as we know it. I grew fascinated by the concept of time and how it works differently in the vastness of space than on Earth. At one point, I felt overwhelmingly small and helpless, a miniscule person, afraid, on a miniscule rock in an infinite stretch of something my brain will never fully comprehend. I learned about energy, the duality of electrons, and Schroedinger’s theory and wondered how many versions of each of us exist in infinite alternate realities, if at all. I wondered if my aunt was still alive in one. Or if I was dead in another. I began to appreciate my reality more and was fascinated by the mystery and possibility of it all. I started to feel comfortable with the unknown again. I still feel small, but also part of it all, and not alone. I am but one compilation of star matter trying to make sense of dark matter(s) and accepting that it’s ok if I can’t.

Turn, turn, turn

Where to begin. We lost my Nana at 11:58PM on St. Patrick’s Day; my dad’s birthday, her dad’s birthday, and one of our family’s most appreciated holidays. We toasted with Chivas and an Irish blessing and recounted old stories and even some long suppressed confessions that had us reeling and telling each other, “Shh, people are sleeping,” through hysteric laughter (without any enforced change in volume at all).

Collected from her final party once it started to die down, its attendees gone home for a night’s rest to prepare for another day of uncertainty, she left us wrapped in the warmth of her family’s love, snapshots of her incredible life flashing before her – the memories jogged by recounted stories as best could be remembered and shared by her children, children in law, and granddaughters. She held hands with her youngest son and my younger cousin on all of our behalf before going off to hitch a ride home with her sister, her neighbor, and her father. That’s how I choose to think of it, anyway, the idea presented by my aunt and cousin… and I thought I didn’t even believe in that sort of thing anymore. I’ll make the exception for this.

We spent her final day surrounding her in her small, yellow room in suburban Pennsylvania, seated on assorted chairs and stools borrowed from the facility’s communal areas. We were watched over with care by images frozen in the blissful timeline of our own happy family memories captured and command stripped or taped to the walls. We rotated frequently and each held her hands. Some flew from the west, racing against an unknown deadline with all their might, and some said goodbye through others and through phone calls and videos. We all made it in time in that she knew we were each thinking of her. Of that I am absolutely certain.

We told her we loved her so much and that we knew she loved us too even though she couldn’t say it with words. So powerful was our matriarch, even in her final days that she drew us to her like moths to her sheltered flame. Wordless, her energy’s container frail, our need to be near her was so strong. We let her know she made us who we were- members of a family, a close knit tribe unlike any I’ve ever heard of – despite living on split coasts and across different states.

The grief comes in salty Atlantic waves with foamy Pacific crests and words get crumpled up like moist Kleenex sometimes. Tomorrow will be easier and each tomorrow after.

There is a season.

Turn, turn, turn.